Monday, December 14, 2009


Those who passed by only glanced at the spotted old man seated on the bench in front of the barber shop. It was not his age which caused them to swiftly avert their eyes and pretend utter absorption in their private conversations. It was something about the man, about his hard dark little eyes and erect posture. Even in the throngs of old age, he looked as though he would be a formidable opponent, an old dog you wouldn’t want to scrap with. These were the lingering vestiges of his past and youth; the piercing hawks eyes and tightly drawn mouth. It was not a smile or a frown, but something else; an omission. From behind that face he might be thinking that you were a true friend or he might be thinking that he should bust your knee caps. Now he would never bust anyone’s knee caps, but in his youth he would have, and his adversary would not have known what he was thinking until it was too late. Despite the fact that his only present wish was to sit quietly by the slowly spiraling barber pole and watch the comings and goings of Main Street, his face still wore the harsh mask of his youth. He had grown so accustomed to wearing it that few other options remained.
Most days were sunny. Even in the winter, the air would be cold but clear and the sun would dazzle in the blue sky, refusing to give up its place on the throne. It was rarely so cold that one should do more than wear a jacket and put ones hands in the pockets. The idyllic lampposts were adorned with red ribbons and faux pine wreaths and little banners welcoming tourists to The City of Lake Elsinore. The old man on his bench could watch the people marching up the sidewalk to the popular Mexican restaurant on the corner for lunch or for dinner. Other restaurants had come and gone along this street and other little shops were stocked with antiques and curios. Only the barber shop and the Mexican restaurant had withstood time along with the tanned old man and his crisp bowling shirts. The Mexican restaurant had begun as a tiny hole in the wall and over time had expanded and swallowed up neighboring units thanks to its success, and though they still displayed the old pieces of folk art that first graced their walls, they now included glittering suns of hammered copper and shiny mirrors and a fancy lighted sign outside.
The barber shop had remained as it always had been, and it had been there nearly as long as there had been a town. The old man, watching the life of the Main Street trickle down the black vein, was the owner. His daughter ran the business now, still occasionally coming in and cutting hair, but for the most part she had been swept up in the stream of life that flowed around the barber shop but rarely trickled in. There were a few old men who were regular customers, old men who had learned that behind the stony face of the man on the bench they were regarded as friends. With them he would let that mask go and wear an occasional smile, a face he had only learned as he had aged. A few of them had been there in the days when he would break another man’s knees or drive a car off the Ortega highway and point out to the owner that it was only by his grace that they had not been inside the vehicle during the accident. Like him, all these old men had children that picked them up to come over on Christmas day and gave them photos of grand children and great grandchildren to hang over their television sets. Like him they had once thought of themselves as business men that knew how to get things done. Like him they now watched the world rushing by and wondered what the hurry was. If anyone would have asked, they could have told them that there was no hurry, that everyone was heading the same place. These old men had invoked death on a few occasions, accidentally and not so accidentally, and the taste of it had tempered them.
Sitting on the bench in front of the window with the words BARBER SHOP painted in gold, the old man regarded the old sun blazing in the sky and was glad that it would not rain today. In his youth he had been a rainmaker. Now he was content to let the sun shine on.

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